The Caroline

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The spelling of the name of this large village in the 1836 Western Pilot was Vicksburgh. In 1862, Grant had intended to attempt to bypass the Confederate guns overlooking and guarding the river at Vicksburg, by cutting a canal—Grant’s Canal—through the base of De Soto Point to join the river on the other side. It would isolate Vicksburg from the river and render its strategic position ineffective. He had not succeeded before Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863, but it seemed only a matter of time before the river completed what Grant had begun, placing Vicksburg off the main channel of the river.

Once the Caroline had tied up securely, the raft holding the carriage and furniture was turned loose and hauled in close to the landing and oriented so that the carriage could be rolled onto shore with a burly man at each wheel and others pushing behind while others hauled on the shaft, in the absence of horses, to get it onto level ground.

Wyatt had conversed with the captain and the engineer as they decided what was needed to repair the hull and to maintain the engine once it had cooled enough, as well as to one or more of the water pumps. They may as well do as much as they could in the forced stopover, so they called in others to provide extra manpower and strong backs, wherever they might be needed, as well as to load wood once the other repairs had been done. Better to catch a problem now while they were laid up, rather than find it at a less convenient time, and unexpectedly.

They would be there for the entire day and even overnight after that, and might be able to leave early the next morning, Sunday. It would be sure to be noisy with so many men working around the clock, and Wyatt had suggested that Caroline might prefer to stay in one of the local hotels after they had returned from their day’s outing rather than try to sleep through that noise. She had not objected. She had not expected to find a friend or protector, as Wyatt had become, and was grateful for it. She also felt that she could trust him.

Once the carriage and furniture were ashore, Wyatt saw to the hiring of carts to remove the furniture, and of horses from the local livery so that he might drive the carriage out to its new owners and let them know that the furniture would be only a few hours behind them. They also carried saddles for the two carriage horses so that they could ride back to Vicksburg without the carriage.

Their first stop was to check into the hotel a small distance back from the river and on the hill slope above it, topping out at about two hundred feet above the river, and to leave their overnight bags for when they returned. Wyatt spoke for dinner for them both that evening. Caroline had another small portmanteau with her, no doubt containing her riding clothes and those things that women would not choose to be parted from. He placed it in the carriage behind them with the saddles. She was dressed lightly enough for a hot day, in a light-colored summer dress, with a very brief, contrasting jacket. The heat would not affect her too much. She had left her hair loose to be blown around in the breeze as they drove along. She was aware that he had admired her from time to time, as had others in the hotel, but knew that her dress and decorum could not be faulted.

Their destination was one of the few mansions left standing and undamaged after the local area had been locked down by that war. It survived where others had not, because it had been taken over by the Union officers and had been used as a base of operation along their supply line. It was also far enough away from the action that the nerve-racking noise from the almost constant bombardment of Vicksburg would not keep them awake.

Just outside Vicksburg they could see the skeletons of a few buildings with stone chimneys—some of them—still standing. The families who had lived in them had either left ahead of the advancing war after sheltering in excavations by the river or had taken refuge in other buildings where they now lived until they were able to accumulate enough money, or ambition, to see them rebuilt. Feelings about all of that destruction and death were still raw, so one avoided speaking of it. Once they had left the town behind, there were a few neglected fields, attesting to the losses of some of those families who had escaped out of the path of the armies and the battle and who had not yet returned, if they ever would. However, most of the fields were being worked. Life still had to go on. People and animals still needed to be fed and housed.

Their destination—the estate run by the Hudgin family, close by Cooper’s Mills—appeared to be succeeding and thriving where others had failed. Where their wealth might have come from, no one inquired or disclosed. Fortunes had been won and lost in that war and few of them in ways that could easily be discussed. War changed many things as well as redistributing wealth and fortune.

They had been welcomed and had stayed for lunch, even seeing the other carts with furniture roll up to be unloaded, and the wagoners paid off before they had to leave and head back to Vicksburg. Before they had to leave themselves, Caroline had been requested to play their newly acquired piano once they had learned that she had often played. There were some sheets of music that had come with the piano, and as she played one of the more simple pieces, the young children—all girls—had clustered close about her, entranced by her obvious skill. She found it to be badly out of tune, but had put up with it. It seemed not to be noticed by her forgiving audience. It in no way diminished from her welcome performance, which everyone there appreciated, and the minor deficiencies of the piano could be easily remedied once they found one of the piano tuners still in the area.

They were even invited to stay the night, but Wyatt explained the need for them to be closer to Vicksburg and easily found, so that if repairs were made to the boat, sooner, they would be where they had said they would be.

Late in the afternoon, she had changed into her riding clothes in one of the childrens’ bedrooms, as Wyatt had saddled up the horses that had brought the carriage. He strapped her portmanteau behind his saddle and bade farewell to their grateful hosts, to return to Vicksburg and back to the suddenly busy hotel.

There were two messages waiting for Wyatt, which he read quickly as the clerk gave him their keys. Caroline looked around the lobby as Wyatt kept a close eye on what was happening around them. They had almost a half hour before dinner might be served.

“Could you see hot water delivered to our rooms please?”

“Yes, sir. There was a man asking to speak with you after you left this morning, but I know he saw you leave, so I was not sure what he was up to, and I thought I had better let you know.” He described the man. He had a noticeable wart in the middle of his forehead. It sounded like the remaining one of the three who had been with her brother when he had first boarded. Would they be so foolish as to make an attempt on Miss Henstridge again? Wyatt had half expected it, but she would still be safer in the quiet of the hotel with him than in the noisy environment of the boat and with so many other men wandering about.

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